The New Food Policy Frontier: Business Expectations in a Biden, COVID-19 Era

Co-authored by Laurie Hainley

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the day-to-day experiences of most Americans, those working in food and nutrition are adjusting to new realities. From rapid supply chain adaptations to staggering rates of food insecurity and obesity-related coronavirus complications, the need to improve public health has become more urgent and more complex than ever before.

One could argue that the world is now grappling with four public health pandemics: climate change, undernutrition, overweight and obesity, and COVID-19. The coronavirus crisis has exposed the reality that to build back stronger, society must address all four challenges in an integrated way. In this article, we take a look at how governments are implementing policy and regulatory solutions in this new era.

Quick Take for Businesses

A reinvigorated food and nutrition policy environment will present new business challenges and opportunities. As you review this article, consider the following questions and action steps.

Three Notable Evolutions in Food & Nutrition Policy

Spotlight on the U.S. – Expectations for the Biden Presidency

Reflecting these challenges and policy evolutions, new U.S. President Joseph R. Biden has instructed his federal agencies to set their agendas based on three priorities: COVID-19, racial equity, and climate. Health and nutrition are undercurrents of all three, contributing to the expectation that the Biden administration will be considerably more active and progressive on nutrition than the Trump administration.

While federal agency policy and regulatory agendas are still coming together, a handful of actions are already being explored – or are likely bets – for Biden’s four-year term.

Which policies rise to the top of federal agency agendas will depend on agency leadership and policy influencers. It’s worth noting that Biden’s administration includes several Obama-era staff – Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and two of his recently appointed Deputy Under Secretaries, as well as former FDA commissioner David Kessler. Look for these individuals to potentially pursue nutrition initiatives aligned with their previous positions and actions.

Consumer advocacy groups and grassroots organizations also will be critical players in the U.S. nutrition policy environment. These groups, which tend to wield more influence during Democratic presidencies, will continue to call for aggressive policy actions like banning junk food marketing to kids and mandating sugar-sweetened beverage warnings and taxes. Such policies are most likely to gain traction at the local or state levels first – like the new healthy checkout ordinance in Berkeley and the sodium warning labels in New York City. However, the Democratic-controlled House and Senate make potential federal standards for these strategies a greater possibility.

As events unfold in the U.S. and globally, food and beverage stakeholders should understand, prepare for, and positively contribute to the evolving nutrition policy environment.

This article was initially published in O’Dwyer’s Food & Beverage PR issue.

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